On the Dreaded Law School Waitlist? 7 Tips for Getting In

WaitlistedSo you’ve found yourself in law school admissions purgatory. Not in, and not rejected. Nope, you’ve landed on the waitlist.

What to do?

First, the Good News

Yes, it’s disappointing not to be admitted, but at least you weren’t rejected!

People get admitted to great schools every year from the waitlist, and there’s no reason you can’t be one of them. Maybe the odds are against you, but it’s not hopeless.

7 Things You Can Do To Improve Your Chances

This is no time to sit back and relax. If you want to have a shot at being admitted, it’s time to take action.

  1. Figure out if you really want to get in. The first question is whether you really, in your heart-of-hearts, want to go to the school that waitlisted you. It’s easy to get caught up in the game, and think a school is highly desirable, just because they didn’t accept you. But is this really the right place for you? If not, who cares? It’s not worth the effort to try to sell yourself to a school that you don’t really want anyway. Before you move on to the rest of these tips, be sure you’d unhesitatingly say “Yes, I’m coming” if the Admissions Office called with good news.
  2. Plan your strategy. If the school you’re waitlisted at is truly your best option (keeping in mind that you’ll probably have to pay full tuition if you get in), you need a plan. The first step is to carefully read the notification letter. Does the school say you may contact them? How? Be sure to follow these instructions. (The one quasi-exception is if they say not to contact them, and you have something truly important to report. In that case, you can bend the rules a little bit. But only a little!)
  3. Express your continued interest. This is not the time to be coy and play it cool. In general, schools want to know if you’re truly interested in attending. Who would you prefer to offer admission to: someone you’ve never heard from who might turn you down, or someone who wrote a lovely letter with an update on her career advancement who’s dying to attend? The answer is obvious. If you do nothing, the odds of getting in are miniscule. Tell the school they’re your first choice, and that you’d attend if admitted (assuming both of these things are true).
  4. Do not be a pest. There’s a fine line between politely sharing new information and expressing your continued interest, and being a pain. Don’t cross this line. Before you communicate with the school that waitlisted you, ask the following questions: Am I providing valuable information? Does this information make me a stronger candidate? Is this a reasonable timeframe for me to be communicating this information, considering when I last got in touch? If you can’t give a resoundingly positive answer to each of these questions, don’t send it. (Or wait a week.)
  5. Consider paying a visit to the school. If it’s feasible, make an appointment to visit the school in person. Tell the Admissions Office that you’re coming, and ask if you can set in on a class. (If you have specific interests, ask to sit in on specific types of classes.) After class, introduce yourself to the professor, if it seems appropriate. Talk to students. Take a tour. Your goal is two-fold. One, it shows you’re serious about the school, and about finding the right fit. Two, it lets you write nice thank you notes to anyone in the Admissions Office who helped with your visit, keeping you on their radar screen and reiterating — specifically — why this is the right school for you.
  6. Report any positive information as soon as possible. If you’re still in college, you’ll have new grades to submit. Hopefully these are excellent. Send them to the school, along with a business-like cover letter. If you’ve graduated, have your job responsibilities increased? Have you started a new volunteer project? Have you learned a new language, or some other useful skill? Think broadly! Draft a professional letter about how you’ve been spending your time since the initial application, and send it. (Apparently there’s some advice out there to wait a month or so after getting your waitlist letter, so you don’t seem “too desperate” but I think that’s crazy. If you want to get in, be proactive. Send good news sooner, rather than later.)
  7. Don’t take it personally. Frankly, a lot of this is out of your hands. The school might get a disproportionately high number of acceptances from admitted students, and not take anyone off the waitlist. They might be looking for someone from a specific region of the country, or the world, or might need gender balance in the class. If you fit the characteristics they’re looking for, you’ll be admitted. If not, you won’t be. All you can do, in the end, is set yourself up to be at the top of whatever demographic list the school’s maintaining. Then it’s luck of the draw.

Best of luck!

If you’d like even more information (from people far more qualified than me on the topic), check out this great podcast from Law School Podcaster.

Got questions on getting off the waitlist? Leave them in the comments.
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